A sane society breeds viable discoveries, ingenious inventions, and astute individuals. Its streets are filled with scores of intelligent, well-meaning, and well-behaving citizens. In this article, Mental health is the wellbeing of a human being in relation to his or her mental faculty; thoughts, words, and deeds vis-à-vis the surrounding world: we will not concentrate on the genetically dependent mental wellbeing. Mental Health is as important as physical health, they work hand in hand in keeping the human body and society sane and functioning.
Conflict is known to unsettle mental bliss whether imagined or real. Said conflict can be genetically occurring, physical, or mental too: unemployment, lose of a loved one, abuse, etc. can cause such conflicts. The mind is a very delicate tool that if tempered with or wrongly wound may cause a lot of problems for the human body and society. Those experiencing genetically caused mental disorders are often easy to diagnose and treat in mental clinics by medical and psychological support whereas many whose cases are undiagnosed and not genetically induced continue roaming the streets—hurting themselves or setting fires of hurt out on the world in fear of stigma or denial!
The subject of mental health is a much “avoided” subject for its far reaching negative connotations in most societies. Society demonizes or belittles the existence of the ‘medical condition’ of mental illnesses. Major culprits on this rail are African-Christian societies like ours where its people are expected to be strong because “black don’t crack” and where the devil is credited for all forms of illnesses. In societies like ours, victims often pale away in hiding from the tight grip of stress, addictions, despair, depressions, and other mental instabilities—posing a grave threat on their lives and the state of society at large.
It is only recently, after the passing of the Mental Health Bill of 2019 in Zambia, that we have seen more Zambians warming up to the Mental Health conversation. Before then there was not a lot of bold conversations around it as we see today. Today, there has been a rise in advocacy efforts towards the existence of, and normalizing the pursuit of Mental Health care services by the general public. These conversations have led to Mental Health Day commemorations, Mental Health clinics being set up, Mental Health conscious creative work, and educational-health awareness of Mental Health. Poets and poetry have also not kept their quiet and as tools of social commentary and mass education they have claimed a place in the conversations in the shape of knowledge-drops and experience-sharing presentations.
Psychology and sociology theories support that human beings are products of their environments, so is their physical and mental health. If an environment lacks clean water, its people are going to be infected with water-borne diseases. Similarly, if a child is exposed to or is made to experience abuse their mental health is likely to be compromised too. Thus there exists a huge call for poets to rise from wherever they hail to remedy the scourge of Mental illnesses, the stigma towards them, and the perpetuation thereof. Poetry as art and a way of life, is known to not reserve its words even on most contentious issues. Poets brave the ridicule and the unpopularity with which this duty brings them and instead soldier on to publishing new and fairer futures on stages or on pages. Through provocative intimation or sheer disgust of scourges and societal problems, poets inspire conversations and further critique of these realities.
Below are excerpts from poems ‘Lonely Child’ by Mwelwa On Cos; ‘3 am’ by Forest; and ‘Songs of Koholet’ by Koholet ZM, written around Mental Health:
you will be abandoned, left
alone again, left to bleed on
the pristine floor of your own
Your welcome mat was a
virgin once But they broke the
door just so anyone can step
on, in and out.
Your mind is not a public
place for just any man or
woman to walk in.
It is a temple, a sanctuary, a
But like most temples, it
accepts those who
pilgrimage, the pillagers and
Here, we accept them for who
“…They tell me I shouldn’t
worship my Depression,
And I say I don’t, I just built it
an alter in my chest and yes I
feed it acts of hope, let it
make itself at home, my
mother raised good bones,
taught them how to be hospitable.
I remind them how in the
continent of my body you
didn’t pick the largest place to
set up camp, you only chose
my heart, and you rearranged
the furniture and it looks
better now anyway, there is so
‘Songs of Koholet’
“…I sing loud songs, requiems and elegies,
lies my ears love, quiet lullabies,
Sobs and muffed melodies more or less
mumbled the same, lyrics laced with self
pity, truth, self doubt, fear, self hate,
And Everything in between. Loud gongs,
Red alerts and red flags, Red eyes,
Songs of Broken taps, a Broken host, a
Broken Spirit and soaked pyres,…
…So I sing songs of stained and soiled
windows, somehow sacrosanct, holy
Broken mirrors, and attention seeking and
hypocrisy, so I can feel alive. Maybe fine.
I sing Songs no one wants to hear.”
Again we learn that poetry is not meant for one task; to woo a lover or condemn governments but to save lives by promoting good health among people in society, too. Mental health like physical health determines how the rest of society functions but importantly how each member of society carry out their role and enjoy their rights. If you are stressed, despaired, depressed, or mentally troubled you cannot enjoy life and neither can you contribute optimally to society; same as if you had a heart attack, a stroke or even Malaria. Therefore, understanding that a perfect mind, maintains a perfect body, which in turn gives us a perfect society full of perfect lives, our movement implores fellow poets to find more avenues in society where they can lend their creativity to issues diminishing light in the world. After all, if you are to speak [as a poet] and not say anything [necessary] why speak in the first place? Art can be created for its own sake but it can also take on a superior duty when laced with a purpose such as promoting mental health for people to roam and order the world freely, clearly, and sanely.
Gerry Sikazwe is the Communication Lead at Word Smash Poetry Movement, a seasoned literary voice and enthusiast of youth development. He lives and writes from Lusaka, Zambia.